Let's Fix This Country
police state

Police Can Take Your Stuff Again

To get it back, it's on you to prove your innocence

For Jeff Sessions, who seems to have a heightened suspicion that ordinary citizens are breaking the law, their rights would seem to be an impediment to his law and order crusade, judging from his reinstatement of the program of
"civil asset forfeiture", a move that has drawn stunned criticism across the political spectrum. Hadn't Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder, finally stepped in and at least gotten the government out of that practice in 2015?

Without any due process or even charges, civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to confiscate property and money from anyone suspected of a crime, with the burden on the victim to prove innocence to recover the assets. The program was established as a powerful weapon against organized crime, relieving suspected crooks of their cars, boats, even houses — bought until proven otherwise with the proceeds from drug trafficking. But post 9/11, when the terrorism threat was added to policing, the Justice Department wanted to secure the assistance of local law enforcement, so it offered them its "equitable sharing" plan — they could keep 80% of taken property to spend as they chose. That immediately gave police out on the roads of America a perverse incentive to invent reasons to nab people's money and whatever other assets were in their cars. A busted tail light would do as an offense.

To get their property back — often the car itself — could take months. The cost of lawyers often exceeded the theft, so many were forced to give up the stolen possessions. Police had found a new way to fund their departments. So-called forfeiture became a budget item, a profit center, especially across the South. By "policing for profit", cops and robbers became as one.

Note what happened in reaction to New Mexico passing a model law that requires conviction before the state can take title to assets and requiring that they be deposited with the state, not the local police department that impounded the goods. When other states began to consider adopting the New Mexico model, prosecutor and police associations launched a lobbying campaign warning that laws preventing taking property from people would create a hole in law enforcement budgets. Most measures failed to pass. Only 10 states require a conviction before property is taken.

Sessions can't pretend not to know all about this abuse. His Alabama, where he was first a prosecutor and then the state's attorney general, is not very populous, yet ranked 31st highest in the value of assets taken. He thinks “taking and seizing and forfeiting, through a government judicial process, illegal gains from criminal enterprises is not wrong” and was “very unhappy” with criticism of a program that mostly took money from people who have “done nothing in their lives but sell dope”. This is an attorney general of the United States who is telling us he assumes before the fact that anyone the police pull over to relieve of their possessions cannot be other than "from criminal enterprises" who does nothing but sell drugs.

A second component of forfeiture that Sessions has reinstated is the seizure of bank accounts, ostensibly to root out money laundering, but authorities seem to prefer the money itself in many notorious cases of theft from innocent people. Banks must report deposits of $10,000 or over, but it is also against the law to "structure" deposits just below $10,000 to evade this reporting. There are swarms of government agents combing through bank records looking for suspicious transaction patterns. So someone with a heavily cash business that reliably yields nearly $10,000 a week, say, or a business with insurance that covers no more than a $10,000 cash theft, goes to the bank every time cash accumulation nears that level. In swoop the feds. They just take all the money, and people have to hire lawyers to try to get it back.

The media has reported a welter of shameful governmental abuse. A few of the cash seizures as examples:

 A 67-year-old grandmother in Arnolds Park, Iowa has for almost 40 years operated a cash-only business dishing out Mexican food specialties and depositing her earnings at a bank a block away. IRS agents seized $33,000 in her account. Her crime? Deposits consistently amounting to under $10,000.

 Police on Long Island (NY) swept up a year's worth of deposits ranging from $5,550 to $9,910 with the insupportable claim that it looked like structuring. The total of $447,000 was taken from a family candy and nut business in its 27th year.

 Cops at a Cincinnati airport took $11,000 from a student — his life savings — because they claimed his suitcase smelled of marijuana. It took him two years to get the money back.

That's what Sessions has brought back. You didn't think anything like this happens in the United States probably, but we covered it fully three years ago in "http://letsfixthiscountry.org/2014/11/28/law-enforcements-license-to-steal/Law Enforcement Has a License to Steal from You".

1 Comment for “Police Can Take Your Stuff Again”

  1. David Barnett, Ph.D.

    What you should really be concerned about is why the whole principle was not outlawed by the U. S. Supreme court.

    Prima Facie it violates the 4th and 5th amendments. No ifs ans or buts.

    Politicians cannot be trusted to uphold the constitution. But the Supreme court, which should have known better, chose to look the other way when congress originally passed R.I.C.O. et al.

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